Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Silver or Lead" in Mexico: Bribes or Death

Byron Pitts Reports From The Mexican Drug Wars

In the past four years, more than 30,000 people have been killed in Mexico's battle against powerful drug cartels. The violence and corruption is now appearing in places that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: places like Santiago, a quaint tourist town just a few hours from the U.S. border.

Last August, Santiago's mayor, Edelmiro Cavazos, was kidnapped and killed. To understand what's happening in Mexico, you need to understand what happened in Santiago. There, and elsewhere around the country, drug cartels armed with guns and cash are forcing a choice on politicians and law enforcement. That choice - as beleaguered Mexicans put it - is between silver or lead: take a bribe or a bullet.

Veronica Cavazos and her husband, Edelmiro, were enjoying a good life, raising three children. He was a successful lawyer with a family run real estate business. Then, in November 2009, at the age of 38, Cavazos was elected mayor of Santiago, a picturesque town where he and his wife grew up.

Asked if she thinks her husband was born to be mayor, Cavazos told "60 Minutes" correspondent Byron Pitts, "Probably. He had this special light, this special feeling of helping people since he was a kid."

But she was worried. "It was a dangerous time to be the mayor, in my opinion," Cavazos told Pitts.

"He was well known. You all were comfortable financially, so why do this?" Pitts asked.

"And you know what his answer was? There is something I can do to help my town, to help my people. And that's the way I'll do it," she replied.

Cavazos was eager and everywhere. He could be found with a smile at civic presentations and at every improvement project.

Cavazos told Pitts her husband had no apprehension about the job. "He was a dreamer, I think."

"A dreamer, your husband? What did he dream for Santiago?" Pitts asked.

"A perfect place for his kids," she replied.

Santiago dates back to the 1600s. Its history and natural setting make it a popular tourist destination. But beneath the postcard appearance is another Santiago, a place important to drug traffickers.

The town straddles a major highway from the drug producing regions of southern Mexico and South America. Controlling Santiago makes it easier to move shipments north to Monterrey. From there, the marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines are shipped to cities on the border - three hours away - and smuggled into the United States.

"So from that place, you can go anywhere in the border," Ramon Garza, who has been an investigative journalist in Mexico for 35 years, explained.

"So in many ways, the drug world intersects at Santiago?" Pitts asked.

"Exactly," Garza said.

Garza says Santiago became a safe haven for wealthy drug cartel bosses who blended in with the town's other wealthy residents. "It's a place where you can hide your activities because it's a place for tourism, for nice homes, for weekends," he explained.

And for years, the drug trafficking organization in control of the region - including Monterrey and Santiago - was the Gulf Cartel. Their enforcers: the Zetas, a ruthless gang that started with former Army officers from Mexico's elite special forces.

"Hired guns," Pitts remarked. "Well-trained hired guns."

"Well-trained. They were like a SWAT," Garza agreed.

According to Garza, they were originally trained to go after the cartels, but now are part of it. "They became the Army for the cartels," he said.

In February, only three months after becoming mayor, Cavazos was caught in a feud when the two cartels split. By then, many of Santiago's police were on the payroll for one of the cartels. Cavazos later disciplined some of the officers for extortion.

"So, Cavazos thought he was in control of everything," Pitts remarked.

"He wanted to be in control of everything," Garza said.

"But he wasn't," Pitts said.

"He knew that he was not in control because I had a chance to talk to him several months before his killing. He was worried of the police department," Garza said.

According to Garza, Cavazos was worried because of the corruption. "He didn't know exactly who do they work for," he explained.

"And he's not willing to look the other way," Pitts remarked.

"He wanted the police department to be the cleanest possible and not to be involved with the group of cartels. That's what he wanted," Garza said.

"And that was dangerous, to want that," Pitts said.

"Well, because at that moment, the police department didn't belong exactly to the mayor or to the county," Garza said.

Their uniform may have said "Santiago Police Department," but Garza said, "In reality, they were working for the cartels."

Mexico's four year war against drug trafficking has led to chaos and bloodshed. Many of the more than 30,000 drug related deaths are due to the criminals killing each other. But not always.

"I was worried about him. Everybody was. My mother-in-law also was worried about his life," Veronica Cavazos said.

If Cavazos was worried, he never told his family.

Last August 15, the mayor was in Santiago's town square celebrating International Youth Day. It was the last time townspeople would see him alive. With his family visiting relatives in Texas, Cavazos went home to an empty house. A security camera captured what happened next.

The video shows the police officer who guarded the house at night walking towards an approaching line of cars. When they pulled up to the front, armed men got out. Another camera caught the gunmen threatening Cavazos at the door. Moments later, he was pushed into the back seat of the lead vehicle. The police guard walked to the car behind and got inside. In less than three minutes the kidnapping was over.

"The surveillance camera at his house, how important was that to your investigation?" Pitts asked Alejandro Garza y Garza, the attorney general for the state of Nuevo Leon, the lead agency in the Cavazos investigation

"Very important," he replied.

Garza y Garza says when the police guard was found the next morning, he claimed he was also a victim. "And he says he has been kidnapped with the mayor," he explained.

But the video, Garza y Garza says, showed the guard had not been kidnapped.

At the Cavazos home, family waited hours by the phone for a ransom demand. None was made.

"When I saw that this wasn't for money, I suspected that this wouldn't have a happy ending. Because he loved his town so much. And since beginning, he wanted to do things right," Veronica Cavazos said.

She told Pitts she believed her husband would not negotiate and would not be bought.

Two days after he was kidnapped, the body of Edelmiro Cavazos was found dumped by the side of a road in Santiago.

"Were they trying to send a message in the way in which they killed him, in the place in which they dumped his body?" Pitts asked Attorney General Garza y Garza.

"The message of the bad people is that, 'We don't stop with anybody. We can kill people. We can kill policemen. We can kill mayors. We can kill everybody,'" he replied.

Santiago was stunned when state investigators arrested six of the town's police officers for their alleged role in his kidnapping and murder, including, the man assigned to protect the Cavazos home. The state's case against the officers rests heavily on their confessions.

"We have testimony of six or seven policemen that say they thought he was working for the other cartel. Mayor Cavazos was against them. So that's why they kill him," Garza y Garza said.

"When they captured some of the persons that were involved, they said that to the authorities. He didn't want us to do our job. So, he was like a rock in the way, and we just took him away," Veronica Cavazos said.

Asked what she means by a "rock in the way," she told Pitts, "For them. For the rest of the town, and for me, he was our light."

By week's end, the people of Santiago were back in the town square to pay their final respects to the mayor. Earlier, his wife Veronica had bid a private farewell.

"I thank him. I thank him," she told Pitts. "For all the happy moments we lived together. For my three kids. For letting me being a witness of all the good things he made through life."

Santiago today is sad and fearful, and tourists are staying away. Journalist Ramon Garza says another casualty of the drug war is trust.

"How many people want to work at the police department in Santiago now?" Garza asked. "Nobody want to be a police anymore here. Why? Because they know if they have to go - they have to go - silver or lead."

"Either you take the money and live or reject the money and die," Pitts remarked.

"Exactly," Garza said.

Taking money from the drug cartels has been an easy choice for many police officers, with starting salaries at only $500 a month.

Jorge Domene, director of public security in the state of Nuevo Leon, told Pitts the officers are easily corrupted, since the cartels pay much more than the police force.

How much more? "Double," he explained.

Jorge Domene says that, for now, the drug cartels hold the upper hand with both silver and lead.

"There's no police in Mexico that can fight the cartels in terms of the level of equipment they have," he explained.

Asked what kind of equipment a police officer in Santiago would have, Domene said, "A pistol. That's it."

But when asked how the cartels are armed, Domene said, "You name it. Whatever comes to your mind, they have it. AK-47, AR 15."

"So it sounds like local police are bringing a pocket knife to a gunfight?" Pitts asked.

"Right. You're like Tarzan against Rambo," Domene agreed.

Domene is directing a new effort to eliminate all local police departments in Nuevo Leon, including Santiago's. In their place would be a state police force that is better trained, better equipped and, even more important, better paid. Professionals, he hopes, that won't be corrupted.

"How long before you think the cartels decide, 'Okay, we'll start paying you more money,'?" Pitts asked.

"In my opinion, my experience is a point in time that is not more money. It's your beliefs, your principles," Domene said.

Three months after his death, a Mass was held to remember Edelmiro Cavazos. He was one of 14 mayors murdered in Mexico in just the past year. In places where the cartels are in control, being a public figure means being a target.

No one knows that better than Attorney General Alejandro Garza y Garza. His own brother, one of the state's top criminal investigators, was gunned down by a cartel four years ago.

"We're in a war, all Mexico is in a war against the cartels," Garza y Garza said. "But in this war, the bad guys, they don't have any rules."

Extra: Mexico, A Neighbor in Trouble

Extra: Corrupt Cops

Extra: Calderon and The Violence


  1. yeap...exactly what makes Mexico so dangerous....
    even a honest harmless guy can be corrupted ...when they say ..either take the money...or we will kill your whole family...what can he do?...

    and the stupid restrictive US immigration policy that turns people who would normally enter the USA legally , into criminals / victims of the narcos brings it into the USA

    and in Mexico who do you call...not the police...who can help you ..NOBODY

    Mexico and the people are so beautiful and so tragic...

  2. "and the stupid restrictive US immigration policy that turns people who would normally enter the USA legally"

    Really? Why aren't they entering legally, then? When you say things like this it makes you sound like a moron. Clean up YOUR side of the street before you insult the United States, buddy.

  3. The US is expected to keep an open border, present no restrictions to incoming peoples, and fully trust they have the most honest of intentions while in our country...yet you yourself say "even a honest harmless guy can be corrupted"...this makes ZERO sense! Border restrictions are there not to keep those honest people out, but rather to make sure only the honest can enter...thus the need to enter legally!

    Yes the USA has drug users, money, and guns that flow south...which is PART of the problem in Mexico...however Mexico is the other half of the problem and in my mind a much larger part of the problem. I don't believe for a second that the American people would stand for such violence and corruption...which may be the reason we don't have such things to the same degree as Mexico. You need to stand up for your own land before you start insulting ours for not letting everyone in!

  4. The producer's name isn't really "Joyce Gesundheit" is it? I think we're being hoaxed.

    Ed Bradley looks like shit.

  5. jaysus...buddy i am an American..and with no latino ancestors...not from anywhere even near to the border

    i am saying that we should make it easier to enter legally

    like going to Mexico ..takes about 5 minutes and 20 dollars for a 6 month tourist visa

    charge 50 dollars ..give Mexicans a tax number ...and a chance to be here legally

    just think ..if we would say ok ..all 12 to 15 million illegals can go pay 50 bucks for a 6 month visa look for work or what ever...lets see 50.00 times 10 million equals 500,000,000 dollars ..pretty good money for our side and helps Mexico with the drug war too

    man some of you folks are so eager to get crazy

  6. I have read borderland beat for 5 or so months now. I find it somewhat addictive. I am so sad about what is happening. I used to go to Playa del Carmen when it was not developed in the 80's. My brother had a beautiful house in Cabo. I spent my 10th wedding anniversay in Cancun. All of the Mexican people I met were lovely , hard working people. I am scarred for them mostly and sad I might never go to Mexico again. What happens when tourism completely dries up and all of those people loose jobs. If the choice is dying from hunger or working for a cartel - what choice do you think will be made? This is a lose - lose situation. I don't know how to help and I am afraid.

  7. Which cartel killed him and which cartel were the cops claiming he worked for?

  8. @ lito'brito

    Dont forget also if you have a car when you go into Mexico they also have a car permit you get for like 35.00 so add that into your calculation as well.

    FYI i agree with everything you said

  9. Santiago y la presa are so beautiful..and good deals on the shopping too...wont be goin there for a while

    here is a photo of the lake

  10. yeah ii don't drive there no more last drive through Cerralvo got me shook down by some Z"s...but i got off easy ..200 pesos ...and my life

    i still got the car visa sticker on my windshield though ...sort of a little momento

    yeah we could sell ours for fifty bucks ...and also the insurance it could really add up

  11. @ lito'brito...

    So you are not Hispanic, lito'brito? Then why do you call yourself what you do (lito'brito), other than to deliberately try to mislead people into thinking that you are Hispanic?

    '''lito'brito said... jaysus...buddy i am an American..and with no latino ancestors...not from anywhere even near to the border'

    I am not trying to flame you, Brito, but just trying to understand who is who at BB? Just who are you?

    Now my picture of you has just become that you are some Anglo who passed time in the US Navy, somehow studied some in Monterrey, and who for some reason or other just spent time in Monterrey during this Christmas season??? Is this correct?

    I am thoroughly confused here when you say that you have 'no latino ancestors' when you seem to have led us to believe before that you are Hispanic. What gives here?


  12. lito'brito...remember that it is NOT what you say but how you say it. What you've written now, and in the past, has been written in such a way that makes little to no sense. You write as if you are in Mexico with limited understanding of the English language...yet now you say you are just a White Boy from parts unknown. Not sure what to make of that...

    But please an online forum you are only judged by what you say and how you write it. From what I gather you're not writing what you're saying...otherwise others wouldn't jump on you like they do.

    Just sayin...

  13. @7:14 pm

    The only info that has been released is that it was the Zetas. The kidnapping/execution is said to have been masterminded by El other info has really been released on this alleged Caballo.

  14. He is a poser Ernest1. Hegot called out by about a dozen people in the past couple of days ecause somebody read into the posts really well and figured him out.

    I think he is cool. Entertaining as hell for sure. Doesn't know cartels from canalopes but entertaining nontheless.

  15. You have to take into account that this is he same expert who has never heard of Koosh (created by Motarebel who is currently incarcerated), who doubts Mota prices and I quote "because I know people in Puerto Vallarta" and who walks around in areas where. and I quote again "I can see human bloodstains on the sidewalk". Entertaining young kid, but I give his words about as much credibility as Sarah Palin. The whole acting like a Mexican thing is disturbing though. Like he doesn't have friends and needs to fit in here.

  16. The problem is more for the Mexicans because is happening in our land but everything went out of control in 2006 when the US government put pressure -when Calderon took office- to start this war "outside the US". A solution for Mexico can be to legalize drugs and end the problem.

    Felipe Calderon is in some way responsible for this murder as he is the President and official chief of the Mexican army and federal police, he started this war without proper precautions falling to US pressures, how she can say is proud of the President? without doubt her husband was a hero but the President should have more pressure from the citizens and "mayor´s wives killed" to prevent actions like this. Sorry about my English.

  17. Yall some losers responding to Ernulfo's and Brito's posts. What's worst than a talking fool? The fool that's listening to him.

    Anyways, looks like there was an assasination attempt on dude in the video yesterday at 10pm.

    Poco antes de las 22:00 se reportó una balacera a las afueras del prestigiado bar El Viñador, ubicado en el municipio de San Pedro Garza García, Nuevo León.

    Fuentes señalan que un comando armado intentó ejecutar a Jorge Domene Zambrano, vocero de Seguridad del Estado.

    El funcionario se resultó ileso del ataque, sin embargo uno de sus escoltar se encuentra gravemente herido, reportes médicos señalan que recibió varios impactos de bala.

    Momentos después del atentado, autoridades mencionaron que solo se había tratado de un intento de robo, aunque las cosas apuntan a que los sicarios querían terminar con la vida de Domene, ya que en recientes fechas había recibido varias amenazas por parte de integrantes del crimen organizado.

    Testigos afirman que Jorge Domene es cliente frecuente de El Viñador, y que suele realizar reuniones con políticos y personajes importantes en ese lugar.

    Mientras tanto en la prestigiada zona de San Agustín, se reporta una gran movilización por parte de autoridades policíacas, y de elementos del Ejército Mexicano.

  18. The story about the attack on the spokesman for the state police is here.

  19. The hope, the positive thing about this CBS broadcast is:

    1. Major US Network TV is airing a story about the cartel wars in Mexico. It is heartfelt because this story is about a man who wanted to do the right thing for his home, his country. And the story exposes the horror and brutality of "silver or lead"

    2. Mexican officials are saying what many of us have reiterated here: the US helps Iraq and Afghanistan, but what about its neighbor next door? This cartel violence will spill over into the US--if nothing more (at first) than the leaders trying to find sanctuary here

    3. It shows that Mexican Government officials are asking for more overt help than what we've seen thus far

    4. It exposes how deep and pervasive the corruption really is. When your own protectors are really your enemies, how do you fight that?

  20. I saw this piece on 60 Minutes last Sunday night, though I was glad to see it it is like a pebble being tossed into the ocean. The story ended rather abruptly and in my opinion was pretty narrow in scope. At least it was mainstream and primetime. I think we will see more stories like this in the future as the newly elected conservatives are now getting to work on new legislation pertaining to immigration, the public attention will force the media to broaden their scope. I know these issues are touchy but at least it will draw attention to what is really going on along the border and in Mexico.

  21. I was happy the US media finally got out of Juarez..everyone reports on Juarez, ignores what is happening elsewhere. Tamps and NL is where big news should be.

    I would love to see a documentary or dateline etc devote an hour or two depicting many places in Mx being destroyed by violence...Mier, Mata, Reynosa, Miguel Aleman, Mty...and so on...when they focus on one place it gives the impression of a narrow scope of violence. and honestly I think Tamps is the more violent over a wide area, Zs and Gulfo run the entire state and each municipal.

    DOn't count on anything changing in the US media.. conservative do not run the media liberals do. That has not changed.

  22. Brito

    why aren't you going to Santiago for a while? you are minutes away and it remains safer than Monterrey. You are in Monterrey, so close, I would go to Santiago anyday. I wish I was there now, walking up the cobblestone path to Cola de Caballo

  23. @ Layla

    Please do not forget the word "overt". The Americans will never give EFFECTIVE help that is "overt". They want the Mexican government to ask for this help publically so the world can see it and the US looks like a hero sending her children in to die fighting the cartels.

    Do not be confused that the US has a vested interest in this problem.

  24. @Buela.... 'You are in Monterrey (Brito), so close, I would go to Santiago anyday. I wish I was there now, walking up the cobblestone path to Cola de Caballo'

    ... and over the pass, past the orchards and down to the cabanas de Arteaga, Coahuila, too. But, Buela, something tells me that our man, Brito, favors other forms of entertainment in the Regio metro area than the Nature one you just suggested? What you think?


  25. E1

    True...but Coahuila is not the NL subs of Mty. I only asked because he mentioned he IS in Mty and loves Santiago posted a link to show the lake then says he can no longer go there.. so I asked why? he IS there for all intents and purpose, and surely if he does not fear Mty..why not make a day trip to beautiful Santiago..? Just wondering E...still am..jaja

  26. i would go but my wife is a little chicken and wont go...

  27. besides there is still shooting going on down there ..yesterday it was on the news ...showing some shot up cars ..and some guys killed...La Presa will be there ..and I am not in any hurry

    like my sweety said this morning...better late for work than early to the grave

  28. He will no be hard to find.

  29. @ Briiito

    I would not go to Mty but sure would Santiago you can not compare the violence by a long your wife is chicken to go to Santiago, but is all for Mty? sorry ...makes no sense.
    There is violence in all the border states, my city included, but it is still considered one of the more "safe border states" so guess we don't count the police chief being killed and body dumped just a few blocks from my offices, or the businesses torch to the ground, kidnapping in the scores, killings extortions...etc

    but it reamains "one of the safer"
    Sorry Brito you know I am a fan...but this makes zero sense expesially if you go day time visit. I would not hestitate, but got rid of my Mty apt that place scares me..

  30. he has no wife. he is a kid trolling here because he has no firends.

  31. like i said before ..controlled they have been talking about the alcaldes killing for the past couple of days again...sort of puts a little chill on it...

    Mexico deceptive can look so safe and serene ...and be just dangerous as me it is a differen't kind of creepy one of those Ray Bradbury storys ..where the little town is so nice and normal it is the Stepford wives or something

    Santiago has that feel for me right now

    and ernie ...will you quit kissing B's ass for a little bit...i am ashamed for you


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